To many sports fans, Roethlisberger's alleged behaviour has been inexplicable - and despicable. Roethlisberger is a young, talented athlete who has fame and wealth. Why would be place himself into such predicaments? And why would he do so repeatedly?
The answer for Roethlisberger and many other present and past football players may rest with medical findings.
Dr. Ann McKee
knows football. She was a Green Bay Packer fan in former years. She knows American football from the perspective of a fan and from the perspective of a medical doctor. She is one of the United States' foremost neuropathologists. For decades, she has examined brain tissue of deceased people. Among the brain tissue that she has examined are those of former football players. The medical data are significant. In testimony before Congress, Dr. McKee said:
"... I can say that for the past 23 years, I have looked at thousands of brains, from individuals from all walks of life, of all ages, and during the past 20 years, I have primary focused on abnormalities of tau protein. But I have see this unique pattern of change, in this severity, in individuals with a history of repeated head trauma, including boxers and football players. These changes are dramatically not normal - there is no way these pathological changes represent a variation in normal that we find under the bell shaped curve..."
The compromised brain may lead to memory problems, personality changes, depression and a whole host of physical impairments. A survey conducted in 2009 concluded that concussions were "inevitable"
Through Roethlisberger's career in football from a very young age, he has sustained vicious blows to the body, not just to the head. The blows to the body also impact the brain structure. The head feels the force of the tackles. Roethlisberger reportedly has had four concussions in four years
, as well as a significant motorcycle accident where he sustained a broken jaw and broken nose among other injuries. He was not wearing a helmet
This is not an apologist's excuse for Roethlisberger's alleged behaviour. The public is tired of sexual misconduct followed by an admission of need for sexual addiction therapy. One wonders when a bank robber will plead with the courts that the theft was a result of 'bank robbery addiction'.
The work of Dr. McKee and other medical researcher indicate that there is a real and significant danger in playing football. There is empirical evidence. The repeated blows to the body can have a cumulative effect. Further, there is the masculine image of toughness in playing through pain and overcoming injuries. It supposedly shows character. It also may exacerbate brain damage, change quality of life and even shorten one's life.
While the allegations against Roethlisberger are deplorable, there may be some positive contributions from this maelstrom. Roethlisberger's alleged 'questionable' behaviour may not be a matter of character. It may be the early indication of a serious neurological problem in a very talented young athlete.
Dr. Ann McKee: Presenting the Data